Horror at the Box Office Down Under - First Half 2009 - 24 July 2009


The first half of 2009 saw a resounding ten horror movies opening at cinemas in Australia, though admittedly half of those films have been in limited release. On an even more positive note two local movies managed to gain cinema release, though once again tempering optimist was one of the two completely failing to find any sort of market and becoming a major embarrassment to the local horror community. During the course of this article I will review how each of the ten horror releases went box office wise, highlight the performers, and naturally shower scorn on the ones they should have just thrown straight to the DVD wolves. Lets break it down and see what becomes of the broken hearted.

During the first third of the year Twilight loomed large on the horror cinematic skyline, sort of like a sparkly Marsten house really. The 2008 blockbuster simply wouldn't go away, and most weekly box office commentators ran out of words when it came to mentioning the bloody thing on a weekly basis. Actually the last statement may have more blood in it than the amount spilled during the entire running time of Twilight. Unfortunately the box office bonus the yank tween vamp outing proved to be didn't translate to the rest of the genre as the first half of the year bounced from one bad result to the next.

Things started well enough with the third instalment of Len Wiseman's vampire/werewolf trilogy Underworld: Rise of the Lycans having a solid opening weekend of $1.6 million through late January. The movie proved the doomsayers didn't know what they were talking about as it legged it out to a sensational, for horror, three times multiplier and final figure of $4.9 million. Most start of year predictions had Underworld 3 pegged as failing due to poor critical reaction to the preceding episode in the trilogy Underworld: Evolution, which really didn't take into account the box office success of both the first and second Underworld movies. In short Rise of the Lycans had a built in market who didn't care about the change of personal and who were more interested in how the saga all started.

Late February saw the first of the original, if we forget about an episode of the X-Files from session two, horror movies to post a reasonable result. The Unborn, which seems to have been marketed solely on Odette Yustman's arse, opened to a slightly disappointing $856 but managed a solid enough 2.5 multiplier. This would tend to indicate a decent enough word of mouth going down though Advertisers were unable to expand the movie beyond it's core target teen audience. Still anything over $2.5 million for a horror movie in Australia is a result, The Unborn's $2.2 was there or there abouts.

The first of three remakes My Bloody Valentine 3D was released mid February and as was expected did significant business in cinemas equiped with 3D technology but really made no impact in more traditional locations. North Americans seem to have fallen in love with the whole 3D thing and brushed over a sub par movie, while local audiences weren't fooled in the least and by and largely gave it a miss. The opening weekend result of $740k translated to a 2.45 multiplier and a miss with a $1.81 total. Considering the movie is a complete shambles without the dubious 3D technology DVD sales are not going to make pleasant reading for the Distributor.

The Uninvited, this time faking the original Korean classic A Tale of Two Sisters, opened in late March with a complete miss on opening weekend of $484k, though a 3 times multiplier did slightly right the ship with a $1.46 final result. The problem for the movie, a ghost story with a mystery to solve, was that the heavily promoted trailers gave away the plot to the uninitiated while the core horror market had already seen the Korean original and rightly chose not to degrade that memory. Interestingly there was Australian involvement with Actress Emily Browning starring, but this didn't help in the final wash up Down Under.

Paramount had entered the horror fray two weeks earlier with the remake of the warhorse franchise movie Friday the 13th, this time a rehash of the first four original F13th movies. Proving they were not picking them in 2009 Paramount got a disappointing $619k opening weekend, well below the almost two million pundits were expecting, and a bad multiplier of 1.92, for an epic failure of $1.2 million in total. Translated the movie had bad reviews heading into opening weekend, well after North American scribes could slice and dice it quicker than Jason could clean up a group of camp counsellors, and word of mouth backed those bad reviews. In the 2009 version Jason seemed more concerned with people raiding his rumoured plantation of awesome pot, than sorting out those promiscuous counsellors. The clear indication for Distributors is remakes of famous horror franchises are not going to work in Australia, witness the Rob Zombie remake Halloween's complete collapse in 2008 as well.

Indie outfit Rialto took a gamble with the sub titled Scandinavian effort Let the Right One In and opened the vampire flick on exactly one screen claiming a $8,162 result. That's neither here nor there to be honest but Rialto stuck to their guns and lodged one of the truly great results for an Independent horror movie in Australia. As of writing the movie is still playing four months later! It's probably a bit redundant mentioning the multiplier, currently 38.0 for those interested, as a well thought out expansion strategy took full toll of some excellent reviews and a lot of buzz generated in not only horror but general movie communities as well Down Under.

Paramount were back in late May with the smash and grab effort Lesbian Vampire Killers opening to $68k, projecting by 2.2, and closing to a solid $147k, taking into account the low screen count. The clear intention here was to get in quick, get the name out to the fan base, and then wait on the DVD release to add the gravy. The title alone was enough to perk up interest, though the mixed reviews may not have been what Paramount were after. More in the Hammer tradition than the modern U.S cartoon style, Lesbian Vampire Killers seems to have bemused some of our critics who don't get the whole kitsch thing in horror.

Late in June local Indie outfit Madman entered the ring with the Down Under re-imagining Wake In Fright. The movie had been saved from oblivion and digitally re-enhanced for modern audience over a number of years. Interest was high in just how this one would do. An opening figure $25,446 from just four locations relieved some concern and the rapid multiplier build to just under 4.0 proved that word of mouth was strong. As of writing the movie is currently expanding and over $200k looks to be a lock in. One wonders where Wake In Fright might end up considering we are still some months off the promised DVD release date.

Hoyts, who pretty much had a miss with My Bloody Valentine 3D, attempted to also enter the Independent end of the market to even worse results. The Distributor is possibly still feeling feisty after prolonged good horror results with the Saw franchise in previous years. Midnight Meat Wagon, from a short story by famed English writer Clive Barker, opened mid February to a paltry $774 dollars on one screen. The movie had been attacked for being overly gory and Hoyts certainly didn't go out of their way to dispute this charge. Once again a Distributor failed to note gorenography doesn't sell in Australia and the final result of $1,226 dollars is an indictment of Hoyts strategy. I'm actually slightly disappointed in this result as the Clive Barker story is an excellent piece of horror story telling.

If Hoyts thought they had missed the boat with their first independent release then they must not have got out the front door to get to the harbour with their second. Australian original effort Prey opened early May to a shambolic $342 dollars from three locations. The movie would go on to make the Distributor the brunt of industry jokes with a total gross of less than one thousand dollars. This time though I don't think we can entirely blame Hoyts, who one would imagine might have some job openings later in the year. The original Director simply walked off set rather than being associated with the sub standard farce Prey turned out to be. Rumour has it that the credited Director is actually someone's cat, which might go someway to explaining how the hell this movie ever got made. Besides the accents that keep changing from American to Australian, the dead bodies that actually move on occasion, and the wooden performance by "star" Natalie Bassingthwaighte, the film is simply way too derivative of earlier movies. The PR people have been out in force with the movie now being termed a "candy" horror, wtf, with the highlight being it has sold some copies into minor markets as DVD store fodder.

So overall not the best start to the year with only three films out of the ten released doing enough to keep horror's head above water; Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Let the Right One In, and Wake In Fright. Besides the movies turning in some pretty average results Friday the 13th and Prey turned out to be the major casualties.

For anyone wondering Acolytes also had an early year cinema release but sessions were invitation only for Critics and Industry types, ergo no actual box office figures. In total three local horror movies received some sort of cinerma release inline with a very busy timeframe for the Industry in Australia with something like thirty movies being released in total from our own film makers. At this stage the Kiwis have been quiet on the horror front but sources across the ditch can inform me that there are a number of projects currently underway or in post production.

With the rest of the year laid out before us like a half eaten buffet left out in the midday sun what might or might not lift horror's game in the second innings. First up is Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell which looks shockingly cartoonish and which hasn't had the result expected in North America. I'm eyeing up something in the vicinity of $2.5 million there, but admittedly I have both my fingers and toes crossed as I state that. Aussie indie Lake Mungo looks like it could be the most frightening movie of the year and we're all hoping for a decent result there. Finally I guess Hoyts will get some runs on the board with Saw 6 making some cash, though it will continue the decline of the franchise both in actual gross and in quality. Please note I'm not including all second half slated releases in the dark genre as any or all of them could be pulled prior to air time.

What promises to be the biggest miss of the second half of the year is Rob "I wont do a remake or a sequel" Zombie's Halloween 2. If the movie gets a theatre release, not guaranteed, Down Under it's going to be hard pressed to make anything over about $800k.

Hey catch you down the cinema, bring lots of popcorn and lots more tequila, the first is traditional the second we may just need.